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One of the most anticipated premieres of the fall television season, Fox’s epic Terra Nova is set in a not-too-distant future, when Earth has become overcrowded, and its resources depleted. With humanity on the brink of extinction, scientists discover a portal to the Cretaceous Period, where the planet is lush and untouched. The only hope for the human race is for a group of settlers to restart civilization millions of years in Earth’s primeval past, one filled with dinosaurs and other others.
“Dinosaurs and men together, as God intended!” joked Executive Producer René Echevarria as he, Executive Producer Brannon Braga, star Stephen Lang and Visual Effects Supervisor Kevin Bank met with members of the press at Comic-Con International.
Braga said he believes the drama, which centers on the Shannon family as they join the Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, will have a universal appeal.
“If this family can survive, then humanity can survive,” he said. “What’s real about the show is the emotions and the people, though they may be from the distant future, are immediately recognizable and people will relate to these characters.”
Those are familiar themes for Braga and Echevarria, who worked together on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
“We started our careers on Star Trek together and it’s ironic that we would end up working together again on a show that so resembles Star Trek and its themes — humanity trying to find a better way for itself,” Braga said. “It feels like being home again, in terms of writing.”
Keeping an eye on the settlers is Lang (Avatar), who plays Commander Nathaniel Taylor, the charismatic first pioneer and leader of the colony.
“He’s gotten somewhat autocratic, and I mean that in a positive way,” said the actor, fresh off a 12-hour flight from Australia. “I don’t think of people in terms of good guys and bad guys, but I think fundamentally he’s an idealist and he’s a very heroic man. But like many heroes, he’s got flaws as well. He’s adopted a my way or the highway philosophy.”
While the Shannons are at the core of Terra Nova, Taylor lacks those family connections. Lang said his character’s past will play into the series, noting that Taylor’s wife died, leaving him a son with whom he’s not very close.
Lang said he looks forward to exploring this world more, and having his character learn how to lead and survive in such a deadly environment, with unknown terrors lurking around every corner.
“Be careful when you sniff the daisies,” he warned, “because there’s a bug in there that can penetrate you brain.”
Bringing Terra Nova’s dinosaurs and other creatures to life, and ensuring they’re on part with what audiences have come to expect from Executive Producer Steven Spielberg, fell to Bank.
Although some estimates place the budget for the pilot episode alone between $16 million and $20 million, Blank cautioned that the effects won’t be on the level of, say, Avatar, the James Cameron-directed blockbuster that also featured Stephen Lang.
“To do the same quality of Avatar in television is fundamentally impossible,” he said. “I won’t even kid anyone that we are going to do what was in Avatar.”
Still, Terra Nova will be impressive. “I’m not quite sure where Terra Nova sits in terms of amount of effects or scale of effects in terms of history of television,” he continued. “I believe it’s up there in terms of the broadcast side, but probably not in terms of cable or miniseries.”
Blank said the dinosaurs won’t be built anything like those in Spielberg’s epic Jurassic Park.
The pilot will feature three different dinosaurs, with a new creature introduced in each of the following seven episodes but one. “There are things that I love and hate about all of them,” he said.
“[The dinosaur effects] are like building cars: Everyone wants a Ferrari, but here’s this budget and I have to get mechanics and build, and they have to perform at this pace but I have limited resources in how it gets built,” Blank explained. “There were visual effects companies around the world lining up to do this, interested to do this, but most of them, when they heard the timeframes and the budgets, they all basically backed away. So we had to build something a little more efficiently.”
“I think it’s possible television animation will get better and maybe, in a few years, television animation can start to live up to the feature animation of today,” he continued. “But feature animation, with its time and resources is always going to outpace television. I mean, that’s a given.”
Terra Nova premieres Sept. 26 on Fox.